In the face of such atrocities, what can we do?
by Rev'd Dan Tyndall
A gay night club in Orlando has become the venue for the deadliest mass shooting in recent US history.
In the face of such atrocities we often feel at a loss how to respond. Leaders of nations and faith groups have condemned it as an act of terror and an act of hate. Thousands of individuals who wish to stand in solidarity with the victims and their families have lit candles and attended vigils. The UK Parliament has even held a passionate debate in which it was confirmed that over three dozen MPs are openly gay. Calls have been made for The Rainbow Flag (the symbol of Gay Pride across the world) be flown from official buildings.
But we … here in the south west of England … what can we do?
A few weeks ago I was emailed by a man who hadn’t been to church for a long time. He was visiting Bristol and wanted to be sure that he would be welcome at St Mary Redcliffe as he has often felt himself excluded from churches he has attended in the past. Here’s what he wrote to someone who happens to be a mutual friend after attending worship here (I have his permission to print this):
This morning, I stepped into a church to worship for the first time since St Paul's Day last year. I won't pretend that I wasn't apprehensive. In the current climate, I deeply (and somewhat unattractively) envy any LGBTQIA (Lesbian,Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersexual, Asexual) person who has a faith community where they are not apprehensive. And it was…actually, quite lovely. After the start of the service and a lovely hymn (in fairness, my favourite "ground and centre" part of many services), my goddaughter and I went to help out with Sunday school. We emerged into the quire of St Mary Redcliffe to the anthem, Communion and prayers, and a final hymn. After a year and a bit of hearing nothing but rejection from the C of E — including in places that I counted at the very core of my spiritual being — I cannot say how lovely it was.
Since then we have been in intermittent email correspondence and I have been learning more about what it feels like to be an LGBTQIA Anglican:
It’s certainly been a dreadful week to be a gay Anglican (even during several years of particular trial), what with my former diocese in New Zealand leading a particularly nasty Synod push to deny for two more years even talking about blessing LGBTQIA people. It is, of course, much the same in the C of E, so I’m sure you understand the caution I and other people like me feel when engaging with a new church community. The ongoing situation within the C of E and the wider Communion, particularly the often offensive and entirely unloving way that the Church is talking about us, without us, is very testing.
I suggested that SMR operate on the good old model of “don’t ask, don’t tell” to which he replied:
Frankly, “don’t ask, don’t tell” means “don’t attend” for me and many people like me. There are LGBTQIA people out there crying out for the comfort of knowing that they are welcome in a church. I’m among them. For my part, I very rarely enter a church that doesn’t have a statement on its website explicitly welcoming people like me. The default assumption for the Anglican church is one of anti-gay sentiment and only being welcomed until the relationship pronouns come out. Like many gay Christians, I’ve stopped going to church because the Church has been very public in its dislike for us. There are only so many times I can take being ostracised and shunned.
So here’s what we can do in response to the events in Orlando: we can read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the experiences of this one gay man and respond accordingly. And this is why I have changed the words of welcome on the front page of our website.
The words of this week’s collect (Trinity 3) speak into this as well by affirming that we are all children of God and that the freedom we enjoy ought to be dedicated to the service of others:
Almighty God, you have broken the tyranny of sin and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts whereby we call you Father: give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service, that we and all creation may be brought to the glorious liberty of the children of God.
And the words of the collect for Holy Innocents (as taken from Alternative Service Book 1980) reminds us that there is no fence to sit on and is a pertinent prayer for today:
Heavenly Father, whose children suffered at the hands of Herod though they had done no wrong; give us grace neither to act cruelly nor to stand indifferently by, but to defend the weak from the tyranny of the strong.
Rev Dan Tyndall
Vicar, St Mary Redcliffe.